Tuesday, April 29, 2014


I belong to a union. The union worked with the company to develop a contract...work rules if you will.

Despite their best efforts some parts of the contract are grey in the eyes of the company. A lay person would read it one way, the well paid lawyers who worked on behalf of the company to form the contract read it another way.

If I make a mistake the company points to the contract and reprimands me right away. If the company makes a mistake (even if they do it daily...to hundreds of pilots)  and we feel we are wronged then we have to file a grievance.

Over the years I have filed a few grievances. Some I won while others I lost.  None of my "wins" have resulted in money in my pocket though, other pilots have won money.

My most recent "win" was a grievance I filed back in December.

Long story short I put in for 2 days off with pay. I was awarded the days off. The pay for the days off came out of a my vacation bank of hours. Well due to weather I was stuck in a hotel for those two days instead of being at home. For those two days I was "junior manned". I finally went home on the third day which was also a day off and I was junior manned again.

It was my standing that the vacation bank hours should be put back my bank as I wasn't off. I was paid for the days off and a total of 3 junior man days. I wanted just the junior man pay as I wanted to use the vacation bank hours on real days off.

Back in the December I immediately notified payroll of my request. Denied. I then went to my Chief Pilot who agreed with me. The Chief Pilot notified payroll. Denied. I then went to my union whom also agreed with me. Grievance filed.

Last week I got a call from my union...I won, but had a choice in remedy.

A. Get the hours put in my bank, but have an equal number of hours taken out of my next paycheck (since they were paid out in December)

B. Accept the company made a mistake and get nothing

Neither was great. Since I'd already spent the money and didn't want the hours take out I chose option B.

My grievance is somewhat minor. Unfortunately my company violates the contract regularly, especially for reserves. The Chief Pilots stance is to "fly it and grieve it". Pretty crappy, but it is what it is.

The work rules at my company used to be stellar. Since I've been here they have gone down hill. They are still better than others, but not most.

With the clear shortage of pilots I predict further violations by the company in an attempt to keep the schedule going. I fear this summer will be ugly.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Staying put

No upgrade this time around. Staying put.

Several First Officers who bypassed last time chose to upgrade this time.

Fine for now. Maybe next time.

Beyond that, same 4 day as the last three weeks. No excitement.

Next month I got a mix of a day trip, two 2 day trips and two 4 day trips.

At the end of the month my family is planning a trip to Hawaii....all for free. The flight is of course free, but we are using our Starwood Points for a free hotel for 5 nights and credit card points for a free rental car for 6 days. We were pondering Asia or Europe...but Hawaii is free....maybe next time.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Creature of habit

Day 2 of the 4 day. Eighteen hour overnight.

I ate at the same place for lunch...had the same veggie burger and the same beer. Creature of habit.

I'm happy to type NOTHING happened on day one out of the norm. Nice to have a boring day.

Bidding for next month has closed. I have vacation at the end of next month and thus changed my bidding strategy.

This month I work Sunday-Wednesday. I could hold weekends off, but by being off two weekdays we save almost $4000 a year on day care.

Due to various contract provisions I will be off from May 22nd thru June 1st instead of May 24th thru May 30th.

On top of that I learned that I get a few extra days off at the beginning of the month due to the new Flight Time/Duty Time regulations.

In the past I always tracked 30 in 7 and 100 in 30. That was no more than 30 hours flight time in a 7 day block and no more than 100 hours in a 30 day block. Easy.

With the new FTDT regs it's much more complicated.

Among many new rules I keep track of…
• 100 block hours in any 672 consecutive hours (28 days) 
• 1,000 block hours in any 365-day period  

It's now roughly 100 in 28. I say roughly as it's measured in hours versus the old reg which was days. The new regs are more restrictive.

I've flown more recently than ever. I wasn't trying to push the limits on the new regs, but I guess I have as I am scheduled for more than 115 hours in a 28 day period.

This is all new to me, but I think I get the first 2 day and following day trip off with pay. If that holds I work just 10 days next month.

As far as vacation next month my wife and I are leaving it up in the air. We are looking at Korea, London, Spain or Miami.....all depending on flight loads. We will be using our Starwood Preferred Guest points for hotels...so it will be a cheap vacation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bidding for the left seat

Another Captains bid is open for my airline. I was 50 away from the most junior Captain spot last time. Currently they are offering 30 for sure Captain upgrades but there might be more. How you say?

Well people have been bailing from my (and most) regionals for a while. Pilots are retiring, going to mainline, corporate or just getting out of the industry. About 2% of the group is leaving a month. Doesn't seem like much but over the course of a year that's almost a quarter of the pilot group. We've been shrinking with more going out the back door than coming into the front door.

The 30 Captain seats are in my current base, but of a different aircraft. The company stated they MIGHT backfill Captain vacancies across the system from where Captains have left.

My base is hands down the most senior. For example I'm in the top 28% of First Officers in my base. If I were to transfer to most junior base I'd be in the top 3%....or the number 4 First Officer.

That being said there is almost no chance of me holding Captain in base. I'm pondering bidding out....becoming a commuter. My wife is fine either way. I have till Friday to decide. There's always the option of transferring back to base when I can hold it.

Gonna go for a walk and think about it.

Oh and the walk is in falling snow! It's Spring...and it's snowing in Kentucky!

Monday, April 14, 2014

More drama

Same 4 day as last week. Just like last week, day 1 was full of drama.

The first leg out was mine. The Captain I was flying with was new to me. He was only doing the turn.

Before we left the gate I told the Captain about my drama with this particular out station.

Last year I declared an emergency and diverted when a microburst landed on the approach end of the runway while turning final. The emergency was due to low fuel as we landed at alternate airport with less than 5 minutes of fuel on board.

Also last year I got stuck for 2 days due to low weather (and no ILS) and the inbound flight having an engine fail on rollout.

Last week I diverted on the way back due to weather.

This week was another one for the mental logbook.

While boarding the Flight Attendant let us know a passenger was boarding with an oxygen machine. It's somewhat common for passengers to use personal oxygen machines on board. They have to meet specific guidelines and the passenger is responsible for its operation and use.

We were scheduled to leave on time and expected no delays.

Normal flight for the first hour and then we get a call from the cabin from a very senior Flight Attendant.

"Can you guys plug in the oxygen machine battery for a passenger?"

"Um, no...we don't have any power outlets up here." we replied. She should have known that as she's flown the same aircraft for over 10 years.

"Ok, well the passenger with the oxygen said her battery is running low and she didn't charge her spares in the airport. She just thought she could charge it on board" stated the Flight Attendant.

And so began the drama.

This passenger was 65 years old. She was travelling with her adult daughter who just happened to work for my major airline partner.

A few minutes later another call. The passenger in question isn't feeling well and wants us to divert.

The Flight Attendant states she is breathing fine but seems anxious.

The Captain then radios our dispatcher who connects us with a Physician on call. The Physician is given the details about the passenger including how much of her own oxygen she consumed. He recommended giving her our portable oxygen bottle on board.

The Flight Attendant gives the passenger our portable oxygen bottle, the passenger feels better right away. The implications of this one passenger not being responsible and verifying she had enough battery power were yet to be felt.

The passenger requested paramedics meet her at the gate at our destination even though she was feeling better. The reason? SHE WOULD HAVE NO OXYGEN TO USE WHEN SHE GOT OFF THE PLANE.

To review:

1. She knew she was going on a 3 hour flight

2. She knew her battery was already low and the SPARES were dead

3. She knew she'd need oxygen at her arrival

4. She didn't care at all

I said she....but her adult daughter who worked for an airline knew as well. They should have planned this out and had prior arrangements at the destination.

We landed and paramedics met the flight. The lead paramedic was shocked when he was told she wanted paramedics solely because she had no oxygen to use in the airport and for the ride to her destination. He questioned why they didn't plan ahead.

Because our only spare portable oxygen bottle was used below a usable level it had to be put out of service for the return flight.

We had to fly at a maximum of FL250 for the return flight as we had no spare oxygen (part of the MEL for the aircraft) instead of the planned FL360.

Because we were flying 11,000 feet lower we needed more fuel, 1200 pounds more fuel. This meant being topped off. Warm day. The fueler stated he couldn't top us off and was about 90 pounds low. Topping off normally requires overwing fueling and not pressure refueling. He had pressure refueled us initially to the lower amount and had to come back when he was told we needed more.

Because we were nearly topped off and already had two alternates we were now weight restricted. The dispatcher reworked the alternates to save fuel. We had to leave two paying passengers behind as we were just 150 pounds under max takeoff weight. Side note, it doesn't matter how much you actually weigh, airlines use standard weights.

It gets better. The buffer between release fuel (what we had at the gate) and min takeoff fuel (what must be in the tanks at the start of the takeoff roll) was just 180 pounds. Facing a long taxi it was tight.

Adding one more ounce of complexity...it was getting hotter. Outside temp was 26 degrees Celsius. At 28 degrees Celsius we would have to shed another 400 pounds.

Thankfully it all worked out. We took off with an "extra" 50 pounds over min takeoff and landed with just the required alternate and reserves...and not a drop extra.

Got a new Captain for the overnight. Now on day 2.

Sitting in a hotel room pondering bidding for Captain. More on that tomorrow.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Standing together

The skies are changing.

This year over 10,000 pilots from three different airlines said enough is enough. No longer will they continue to take concessions especially when their parent companies are making record profits.

Things looked gloomy after Endeavor pilots set a new low as part of their bankruptcy reorganization under new parent Delta. The larger precedent was when the pilots of PSA chose to bend over and seriously lower the bar for regional pilots in exchange for bigger regional jets.  Management teams from other airlines took note.

Expressjet management tried first to grab concessions from their pilots. The pilots said no.

American Eagle management was second in line to get concessions from their pilots. The pilots said no.

Republic management was most recent to seek concessions that were labeled as an "industry leading contract". Even though it was improvements from what they have now, it still would have been below their peers. The pilots said no.

I seriously hope this is a change for good. The management playbook is outdated and should be thrown out. Treat the professional pilots they employ as true professional and compensate them as such. Pilots with an ATP rating will soon be in very short supply.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Got to the overnight 4 hours early!

Day 1 of a 4 day. It's the same trip all month. It's a 3-2-2-3 worth 19 hours 40 minutes.

Today started with me leaving the house at 7:15AM. I pulled into the employee lot and was on the bus at 7:30AM.

Departure was 8:40AM...left one minute early. I'm paired with a different Captain each week as the line Captain retired on the 1st but was still awarded a line.

The Captain I'm paired with this week is a nice enough guy. I've flown with him in the past. Not a great stick in rudder, but nice enough guy otherwise.

My leg out. Long 2.5 hour flight. Lots of weather. Choppy most of the way. Cloudy but marginal VFR at the out station. I picked up the airport on the downwind. A few turns and done.

For the flight back we had the fuel tanks topped off. We had headwinds and weather to contend with.

About halfway into 3 hour leg we finally got smooth weather. I made a PA and turned the seat belt sign off. Like clock work ATC gave use revised routing. I popped it into the FMS and just shook my head....we didn't have enough fuel for the reroute.

The Captain and Dispatcher agreed to make a fuel stop at an airport just 60 miles away...that happened to be our overnight destination.

Seat belt sign turned back on along with another PA about our change of plans.

The Captain landed on runway 14. We were the only airline on the ground at the time. This tiny airport doesn't see much mid day airline traffic.

It took a few minutes for our air line ground crew to come out.

The aircraft we were in had an MEL'd APU. The APU could produce air but not power. Not a big deal but it meant we needed a GPU.

It was a little ironic we were at the overnight 4 hours early. It would be so much easier to just go to the hotel. If only we could have.

A fairly quick 34 minutes later we were being pushed back out with enough fuel for the reroute. I decided to take the next leg.

An hour an thirty three minutes later we were in the hub.

I was supposed to have a 2 hour 20 minute sit. That was gone. Thankfully we were keeping the same aircraft to the overnight.

Quick run for food.

Blocked out 1 minute late. Rampers wanted to disconnect power early even though we told them we needed it for an engine start. Bleh.

Captains leg again. Back through the weather. Weather was IFR when we left with 1000 foot ceilings and winds favoring ILS 14.

It was worse now.

Ceilings were 400 overcast, 1 3/4 SM visibility  and  winds 330@9G25 in rain. There was only a GPS approach to runway 32. Mins were  400 feet and 1 1/4 mile visibility. Ugh.

Heavy returns on the weather RADAR 5 miles outside of the final approach fix. The Captain requested tight vectors. Well we got them...too tight. Blew right through the approach course.  We were then given a 360 degree turn to get back on course.


700 AGL I saw nothing. 500 AGL I saw nothing. Right at 400 feet I barely saw the VASI and runway lights. There was no approach lighting system.

"Runway in sight, 12 o'clock" I stated.

"You got it  for sure ?" asked the Captain.


Even travelling 150 MPH with the wipers on high, it was difficult to see outside.

Firm but fine landing.

Blocked in one minute late.

Eleven hour overnight.

Here's to hoping the rest of the trip is easier.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Hey what's that noise?

Back from Vegas. For the first time ever I came back even!

Before that my last 4 day was fine until day 4.

Overnighted in a "new to me" city. College town. Found some decent vegetarian Mexican food .

Early morning departure. First two legs were mine.

The first was easy. A quick 27 minutes off to on. Aircraft swap.

The next aircraft was down for maintenance the night before. Nothing major just minor bonding straps replaced. The day before that it was down for an oil smell in the packs.

We were the first crew to fly it that day. Everything seemed normal on taxi out.

The Captain steered the aircraft onto the runway and I said "my aircraft".

Normal takeoff roll....until right after the mains left the runway.

As soon as the gear came up a loud "whooshing" sound entered the flight deck. Even with my noise canceling headphones it was loud.

"What's that noise?" I asked while keeping my eyes on the PFD.

"Not sure, wait...we're no pressurizing." stated the Captain.

A quick scan of the overhead panel showed everything was normal. The pressurization section of the EICAS read a different story.

"We're going back." stated the Captain.

The Captain, whom was pilot monitoring as well, asked to stop our climb at 6,000 feet instead of the assigned 10,000 feet. I had already shallowed my climb but was at 6,500 feet when it was approved. I clicked off the autopilot and made a slow descent down. The cabin was holding at sea level instead of being totally unpressurized and equalling aircraft altitude.

We were fueled for a 2.5 hour flight and were over max landing weight. We could exceed the max landing weight in an emergency, but we both agreed this wasn't really an emergency.

There was no immediate danger. The cabin altitude was holding at 0 feet, the pressure differential was well within limits,  there was no apparent breach of the pressure vessel and everything appeared to be functioning normally except the pressurization system.

We needed to burn 2500 pounds of fuel to get below max structural landing weight. There was no way we had enough fuel to fly to our destination unpressurized.

Out went the gear and flaps while the thrust levers went up. The approach controller did a great job vectoring us around the Bravo airspace and staying clear of arrivals and departures. We flew around for about 40 minutes.

The Captain made a PA early on about our situation.

Once we burned enough fuel we were brought in for an approach. We were just below max landing weight....like 100 pounds below. Heavy on the controls. Normal landing.

As luck would have it we parked next to another aircraft that wasn't due out for 4 hours. A fairly quick hour later and we blocked out again. This is one advantage of flying on a "legacy" carrier...spare aircraft and options. In that hour the dispatcher reworked the flight plan, the ground crew unloaded all the bags and reloaded all the bags, fleet clerks restocked the galley, the gate agent performed the first flight of the day security checks, the fuelers loaded on the required fuel, my crew shutdown and started up two different aircraft. All in all...pretty quick.

I was somewhat annoyed as I was supposed to be done at 2PM, head home and come back for a 10PM flight to Vegas. With the delay it was looking more like 4:30PM. Add in that I got up at 4:30AM....long day.

The turn was normal...just long. Blocked back in at 4:27PM. Just about two and a half hours late.

My wife and I caught the 10PM flight to Vegas. It's still odd to just walk on to any flight we want....for free. We even park for free.

Free was a big word for our trip. We used points from our Capital One card to pay for the rental car. We then used our Harrah's Total Rewards points to pay for the hotel and tickets to see Penn & Teller (we used to gamble a lot and had a lot of stored up points). The first morning we were both up $150, but by that night we were down. By morning 2 were were really down. We then both had a great evening and were back to being even!

With all our points we spent less than $100 out of pocket for a weekend in Vegas.

March was great for me. I flew 89 hours and 37 minutes. I will be paid for more than 103 hours.

April is set to be 90 hours of flight and 95 hours of pay.